Internet

RealNetworks forges streaming partnership in Europe

Hoping to catch the swelling wave of Internet users in Europe, the streaming media heavyweight is teaming with a U.K.-based network services company to transmit video and audio on the Web.

Hoping to catch the swelling wave of Internet users in Europe, streaming media heavyweight RealNetworks is teaming with a U.K.-based network services company to transmit video and audio on the Web overseas.

Madge Networks, which is headquartered near London, is working on developing Internet overlay network services similar to those offered by RealNetworks in the United States through its Real Broadcast Network. Overlay networks are intended to bypass typical Web traffic congestion to deliver quicker and cleaner pictures and sounds.

The combined networks, to be available sometime during the first quarter next year, would allow broadcasters to transmit programs back and forth across the Atlantic. For instance, an American living in Rome aching to listen to a Giants baseball game would be able to tap into a San Francisco radio station for a live broadcast.

"Europe is somewhat behind America in Internet usage, but the growth rate is twice as fast,'' said Robert Madge, chief executive of Madge Networks. "The Internet infrastructure and availability of networks is only now getting deployed in Europe.''

Researchers estimate that about 170 million Europeans will be connected to the Internet by the year 2003, a significant jump from the 1998 figure of 41 million, Madge said.

The partnership is one in a series RealNetworks has established recently to gain broader audiences. This particular relationship would allow the company to position itself as a leader overseas. RealNetworks already dominates the U.S. streaming media market, but it faces stiff competition from latecomer Microsoft, which is growing at a faster rate, said Jeremy Schwartz, an analyst at Forrester Research.

"Real probably doesn't want to surrender the whole European market to Microsoft," Schwartz said.

Madge said its new network, powered by RealNetworks, will be used to deliver streaming media ranging from large-scale Internet events to corporate presentations, shareholder meetings, advertising and entertainment programming. The broadcast networks of both companies will be interconnected.

A new European broadcast center will serve as a programming hub for European broadcasts from which live video, audio and multimedia feeds will be encoded, stored and transmitted, Madge said.